THE FIRST TANK CREWS

The life stories of those who crewed the first tanks in September 1916


Capt Harold Cole (pictured right) who commanded crew C24

Tank crews C19 to C24

Section Commander: Capt Archie Holford Walker

C19 Clan Leslie (No 705 Male). Lead tank with C20 and C22, in support of attack by 6 Div near Martinpuich. Stub axle damaged on route from Chimpanzee Valley to start point and did not take part in the action; ASC crew moved forward and refitted the steering wheels from Murphy’s tank.  Whilst this was underway, Archie returned to the Chimpanzee valley base and sought fuel for Henriques’ vehicle, which was delivered forward by his brother, the Coy Commander.

·    Capt (Bruce) Archie Holford-Walker was born in1893 at Hartley Witney, Hampshire, the third son of son of Brig Edgar Holford Walker (late RA) and his wife Maria.   Commissioned into 3rd Bn KSLI as 2Lt ; he deployed to France in Feb 15 and served with 2 KSLI, he was wounded during the battle of St Julian.  Attached to the Heavy Branch MGC from Apr 16, he deployed to France on 24 Aug 16.  Engaged to be married on 17 Dec 17; he married Nea Grimshaw on 17 Jul 18 at Guildford. Later appointed as T/Maj in 12th Bn Tank Corps 2 Nov 18. Changed name by deed poll to Bruce Holford Walker 1 Mar 19.  He was appointed Adjt in 19th (Lothian and Borders Horse) Armd Car Coy TF 3 Sep 20. He was the organiser of the first C Bn all ranks dinner nights and one of the first members of the Old Comrades Association.  Remained as a Regular officer in the RTC and promoted Maj on 27 Nov 1936, he served with 4 RTR at the start of WW2. Later promoted Lt Col and served as a recruiting officer. Retired to Hampshire and died on 5 Oct 51.    

·    Gnr Robert Tate was the eldest of 7 children; his youngest brother served with the Tanks in WW2. The family home was in Sunderland. Robert volunteered to join Army in early 1916;he bought a copy of the Motor Cyclist, saw an advertisement about the MMGS and applied to join. He travelled to Coventry where he undertook a series of test with about 70 others; only 27 passed and all were immediately sent by train to Bisley. On posting he was issued with the leather tank helmet. On arrival the crews initially trained on Little Willie, then Mother then the service tanks (which he described as Marks 5s). Training included cross-country driving and night drives using compasses; this latter activity failed due to the inability of the inboard compasses to cope with the deflection of metals from other tanks. he trained at Yvrench before moving forward for the action on 15 Sep; he states that his wheels were blown off as he went into action.  He continued to serve with C Bn and was at Cambrai where he saw his friend Harry Tiffin’s tank destroyed. He later drove Whippets and was injured by mustard gas in the last three weeks of the war. Survived and lodged memoirs in Liddle collection of Leeds University. [TATE, R (Tapes 1677/444). 

C20 (Tank No 523 –Female). One of three tanks in support of 6th Div (with C19 and C22) tasked to clear the Quadrilateral to the north east of Ginchy. Reached assembly point at 7.00 am but broke down after travelling 100m. Later repaired, it moved forward (in concert with Murphy) and arrived at 1200 for next attack. The briefing and instructions were inadequate but the tank got well forward to the third objective before it returned to refuel.

·    Lt George Macpherson. Born 7 Mar 96, he was educated at Winchester College, where he was a member of the first College football team.   Destined for the ordained ministry, he was commissioned into E Kent Regt and was attached to MGC with Henriques in Apr 16. Deployed to France on 24 Aug 16, he was fatally injured on 15 Sep in circumstances which remain unclear. He was taken to 34 CCS at Grovetown Station but DOW the same day aged 20. Buried at Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte Plot IC19 and commemorated at St. Bartholomew's Church, Penn in Staffordshire.   Memorial service at  Glass Parish Church  as his family were also living at Edinglassie Lodge.  Extensive report of the event in the Huntly Express.

·    32257 Gnr William Taylor Dawson. A regular reader of the “Motor Cycle “magazine, he answered the MMGS advertisement and undertook an  oral examination at Coventry.  He was enlisted on 2 Feb 16 and was transferred to the HSMGC in May 16  After the initial actions, he continued to serve with C Bn.  He fought at Arras in No 9 Coy taking part in the assault on Tilloy. Having taken the village, the tank became ditched and was then struck by Germany artillery; one round passing between the driver and commander.  Incredibly the shell did not explode and the crew were able to get the tank out – Dawson taking the lead.  The next day, they moved towards Monchy Le Preux but the tank was targeted by German artillery. One shell hit the left hand sponson and those close by were killed; the remainder including Dawson were injured.   After recovering, he was sent to a rest camp at Etaples and then returned to No 9 Coy.   For his action on 31 Jul he was awarded a tank corps parchment and was told, at its presentation by Brig Elles, that he deserved a medal but the Corps had not been issued sufficient. He fought at Cambrai, again with 9 Coy, his section fighting its way past Bleak house towards Masnieres. His tank (C46-Challenger) was the lead tank of the section which assaulted Fontaine Notre Dame, it was the only one which was not destroyed.  Dawson, who had been recommended for a commission, was initially trained at Wareham before undertaking a second term of training at Worthy Down. Subsequently commissioned by the Armistice and later recorded story in manuscript – held at Tank Museum archives. 

C21 (Tank No 740 – male).  Originally one of the tanks kept as part of the Corps Reserve, initially at the Briqueterie then Trones Wood, but moved forward on the night of 14 Sep to support a new infantry assault planned for 1.30 pm. It reached the RV at the Guillemont crossroads but could not move forward. Vincent sent signal; “My tank No 749 is completely ditched near crossroads, cannot moved at all. Have abandoned same and am in a refuge in a shellhole”. The tank was again used, on 25 Sep, during attacks in the Morval, Quadrilateral and the Bouleaux wood area, this time commanded by Lt Victor Smith.

·         Lt Harold Hubert Vincent, Born c 81 and bought up in South Africa. Commissioned MMGS 14 Apr 16 and deployed to France on 17 Aug 16. He served with R Irish Regt as Lt from 31 Jan 17 and later removed from the Army. Later a engineer, he was a founder member of the sunbathing movement.  This activity bought him into conflict with the London Magistrates who attempted to restrict his activities. He convicted of assaulting a police woman in August 1932, having pushed her into the Serpentine. He was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment’ “the gaoler reporting that he had a number of previous convictions for indecency concerning sun bathing”. 

C22 (no 533 - female). Tasked to clear the Quadrilateral to the north east of Ginchy. Moved up in concert with C19 arriving at the start point in good time. The fuel had fallen to less than half a tank but 16 gallons were obtained by his Section Commander (Archie Holford Walker) by 2.30 am. Henriques recce the route and ground before leaving the RV at 4.00 am. Tank reached a point 500m behind the front line by 5.00 am and then stopped. By 5.45 am tank was up to the British trenches but then reversed 20m to avoiding the infantry in the area being hit by German artillery fire aimed at the tank. As tank moved up to the start point, the tank crew fired on 9th Norfolks (believing they were enemy) and created several casualties. Tank Comdr was directed on his route by a Coy Comd of 9th Norfolks and arrived on the objective at zero hrs, 500m forward of the British lines. There tank enfiladed the German objective, with machine gun fire, whilst the infantry advanced. Tank then moved north; whilst so doing, it was badly damaged by German armour piercing bullets, the crew were injured and Henriques and his driver were partially blinded. The tank withdrew once the Infantry arrived on the location, to avoid the tank being captured; however the tank was hit by German artillery fire

·    2Lt Basil Lucas Quixano Henriques. Born 17 Oct 90, Basil was educated at Locker's Park School (as did Macpherson some years later), Harrow and University College Oxford, Henriques dedicated his life to public and social care in the East End of London.  In early 14, he founded a boys club and convinced his future wife, Rose Loewe,to found a similar club for girls the same year. A tall man (6 ft 3 in) he was commissioned into the East Kent Regt and was attached to the MGC with George Macpherson on 14 Apr 16. He married Rose on 19 Jul and deployed to France on 24 Aug 16.   Having recovered from the wounds to his face and legs, and overcome severe depression, Henriques was posted to Bovington where he instructed on tank and tactics.  He later served with G Bn as a Recce Officer and was awarded Italian Silver Medal in Jan 18.  Ax exceptionally spiritual man, he published “Prayers for Trench and base” for use by Jewish soldiers. On relinquishing the Army, he and Rose established St George’s Settlement Synagogue from where they ran a pioneering youth club; the club being opened by the local MP Clement Attlee with whom Basil served at Bovington. A JP, Basil was Chairman of the East London Juvenile Court from 1936 to 1955. He was awarded the CBE in 1948, for his youth work, and knighted in Jan 1955, for his lifetime of service. He died, following a heart attack, on 2 Dec 61.  In his will he left funding for many charities but also to establish a scholarship for a graduate of University College Oxford to support his studies on theological and social work.    

·    2230 Cpl R Paterson deployed to France on 24 Aug ’16 and probably the left hand gearsman. Possibly 200532 Cpl Roger Paterson.

·    2930 Gnr Reginald Harry Fisher born Reepham Norfolk in late Mar 97.  A butcher's assistant, he volunteered for service in early Mar 16. Attested at Norwich, he joined the MMGS at Coventry.  Moved to Bisley on 16 Mar, approved for MMGS on 20 Mar and transferred to MGC 1 Apr.  Wounded during the opening days of the Battle of Arras but not evacuated.  Attended gunner trg at 2 Tk Bde 6lb School from 19 to 26 May and then at the Tank Driving School at Wailly from 11 to 16 Jun.  He was appointed LCpl on 21 Nov 17 and can therefore assumed to have fought at Battle of Cambrai.  Granted UK leave from 15 to 30 Dec 17.  Remained with C Bn for the remainder of the war, reaching the rank of Sergeant in No 6 Coy.  He moved with C Bn into Germany after the war; in Jan 19 returned to Germany and transferred to 12th Bn where he served with the BAOR.  Sought release from service as he had volunteered for the duration of the war only.  He later returned to Norfolk and in 1925 he was still living at the Mark Place in Reepham.

·    2932 Gnr F Raynor deployed to France on 24 Aug ’16. Possibly 200594 Pte Frank Raynor Tank Corps

C23 “Clan Ruthven” (Male).  Corps reserve then one of four tanks tasked to assist 47th (London) Div assault on High Wood. Headed parallel with High Wood's NW side, fouled on a tree stump, and got stuck fast. Continued to provide fire support but this were dangerously close to Sampson (D13) who crossed the wood to identify the problem. He was told by Henderson that he was laying down a protective barrage. The tank remained where it was stuck until after 1945.

2Lt Andrew Henderson was born on 6th July 1892 in Perth. Initially a Pte in 18th Bn Royal Fusiliers he first deployed to France 14 Nov ‘15. He was commissioned into the MGC on 24 Apr ‘16 and returned to France on 16 Aug ’16.  Commanded tank no 705, on 25 Sep, during attacks in the Morval, Quadrilateral and the Bouleaux wood area – he sprained his ankle during the action and was replaced by Lt Bates. He was a section commander in C Bn after the battle of Arras serving with 9th Coy.  He worked at Coy HQ after that action and then was appointed a section commander in 9th Coy,  Lt (A/Capt) 15th Oct ‘17; he commanded 9 Sect of 9th Coy C Bn during Battle of Cambrai. On 20 Nov his section formed part of the second wave, supporting the assault on Le Pave farm, near Bonavis, and captured the position quickly. The section then fought its way through Lateau Wood. On 23 Nov, his section was in support of the attack by 51st Highland Div to the south of Fontaine Notre Dame.  C47 and C48 were hit after reaching the village but C46 continue in action, patrolling the Rd to the south west; the tank only returning to its rally point after it had run out of ammunition.  He was later employed as Coy 2IC on 29 Oct ‘18 and subsequently awarded MC as A/Capt serving with 3rd Light Bn, Tank Corps (LG 31370 dated 30 May ‘19) Home address on MIC shown as 9 Park Place, Craigie in Perthshire.  Later moved to British North Borneo (possibly as a Rubber plantation controller and a POW of the Japanese; released October 1945. On 25 Jan 1947, he married Jessie Taylor Morris at the Royal George Hotel Perth. Possible death whilst living in 18 Church St Perth on 22 Jun 1961.  

C24 “Clan Cameron” (No 512? - Female).  L tank. Tasked to undertake initial assault (with D1 and D5 on Hop Alley feature); then to support Gds Div.  Did not complete first element, reached first objective then returned to start point having track problems

·         Lt Harold Ralph Clement Cole born 7 Aug 1884 and registered in Fulham; educated at Latimer School Hammersmith. In 1901 census shows a Railway Booking Clerk.  A married man, possibly Apr - Jun 1908 in Paddington; Height 6 ft 1”.  Address on joining 47 Kingston Road, Plymouth. Initally a Sapper RE, served as a sergeant with the RE Signals section at Plymouth, then commissioned MGC. Transferred to Hy Sect MGC (LG 26 Apr ‘16).  After the action on 15 Sep he suffered shock and lost memory. He was subsequently admitted to hospital at Etaples. On 16 Oct ’16, he wrote to Col Swinton asking to be returned to his unit.  On 20 Dec Cole wrote to the war office stating that his tank was destroyed whilst near Delville Wood.  On 28 Feb his records shows he reported bad dreams. On 25 May ’17, a medical board found he was fit for duty. Promoted temp Lt 15 Oct ‘17 (LG 24 Nov ‘17).  In early 1919 he served with HQ Tank Corps at Bovington and, on 27 Jul 1919, deployed to the Batic states as a financial officer where he suffered concussion. He was awarded the MBE for his actions, He was demobilised Feb ’20, his address "Knighton" Gainsborough Drive Westcliffe on Sea (Essex) and was presented with the isignia of the MBE by the King at Buckingham Place on 27 February 1919..